Mexico has a wide variety of habitats including hot deserts, marshland, miles of coastline and tropical rainforests. You can imagine there are hundreds of different bird species in a country with such varied ecosystems, so how do you choose just one to be your national bird? There are flashy tropical birds like the Amazon parrot, unique seabirds like the blue-footed booby and tiny hummingbirds like the purple headed Costa’s hummingbird. What is the national bird of Mexico? Is there some debate over which bird is the official national bird? Read on to find out all about the national bird of Mexico!
What is the National Bird of Mexico?
The national bird of Mexico is the golden eagle. There is some debate over whether the national bird of Mexico is actually the crested caracara. Some argue that pre-Columbian Aztec had crested caracara featured in their codices (the manuscripts that showed what their culture, history and life were like). Later Aztec codices show birds that look more like the golden eagles of today. The Mexican flag features an all brown eagle that is a golden eagle, not a crested caracara (which is actually a falcon). Most recognize the golden eagle as the national bird of Mexico.
What Do Golden Eagles Look Like?
Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are dark brown with golden blonde feathers intermixed. Their feathers go all the way down their legs meeting up with the bright yellow feet. The feet have strong thick talons used for grasping prey. Their sharp curved beaks are gray with yellow markings nearest the face. They stand about 2 ½ feet tall and have a wingspan that is six to seven feet wide! If you stretch your arms out your arm span is about the same as your height, so if you are six feet tall you would have an arm span of six feet. Now imagine an eagle with a wingspan about that same width, pretty impressive!
Is the National Bird of Mexico Featured on the Mexican Flag?
Yes! The Mexican flag features the golden eagle devouring a snake while perched on top of a prickly pear cactus. This symbol comes from the legend of the early Aztec people who were told by god Huitzilopochtli to look for a sign as to where they should build their capitol. They were told to look for an eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus. The legend explains that the Aztec finally found an eagle on a prickly pear cactus eating a snake and this is where they built their capital, Tenochtitlan. Mexico City today sits on that same site with the ruins of Tenochtitlan in the center of the city.
Is the Golden Eagle Featured on the Mexican Currency?
Yes. The coat of arms that includes the gold eagle eating the snake appears on the Mexican peso.
What Other Animals are Featured on the Mexican Currency?
The new 50-peso bill features an axolotl, the smiling salamander that was originally found in lakes at the sight of Mexico City. Axolotls are very unique animals because they can regenerate loss limbs. Researchers continue to study them to gain clues to their abilities. Axolotls are also unique because unlike frogs for example that start out as tadpoles and transition into adult frogs, Axolotls stay the same their entire lifespan. They have gills and live underwater, like fish. The legend behind the axolotl is that the god of fire and lightning, Xolotl, didn’t want to be sacrificed so he made himself a disguise by transforming into a salamander.
Are Axolotls Endangered?
Yes. Axolotls are an endangered species listed by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered”. They are only in Mexico and limited to three sites in the southern part of Mexico City. When they were last assessed by the IUCN in October of 2019 it was estimated that the population was between 50-1000 individuals in the wild. Axolotls are also bred in captivity and sold as pets becoming more popular due to recent media coverage. They are considered protected animals by the Government of Mexico and conservations efforts are focused on the main threats of habitat loss and the predation by tilapia fish.
What Animal Used to be Featured on the 50-peso Bill in Mexico?
Monarch butterflies used to be featured on the 50-peso bill. Thousands of monarch butterflies migrate from as far north as Canada, through the United States down to central Mexico where they winter. At the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) researchers monitor the population of monarchs and manage trends in populations. Not all monarch butterflies migrate, but the Eastern monarch butterfly is one of the species that makes an impressive flight. The monarchs the furthest north have to travel close to 2,500 miles!
What Animals Migrate From the United States to Mexico?
Hundreds of different birds either winter in Mexico or pass through on their way further south. Mexico is known as a funnel for birds providing a variety of habitats for birds to keep warm in the winter months. In Chichicaxtle, Veracruz Mexico millions of raptors pass through what has been nicknamed as “The Raptor River” during early October when they all fly overhead. Species that migrate through Mexico include peregrines, Cooper’s hawks, kestrels hawk, Mississippi kites, osprey and turkey vultures.
What Other Animals Live in Mexico?
Common animals that live in Mexico include iguanas, armadillos and white-tail deer. In the rainforest you will find jaguars, spider monkeys, toucans, ocelots and macaws. Animals that make the desert their home include roadrunners, Gila monsters, desert cottontail and western diamondback rattlesnakes. The coasts off of Mexico have thousands of marine animals. Mexico’s east coast is along the Gulf of Mexico and the west coast is along the Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of California is between the states of Sonora and Baja California. Marine animals in these waters include whale sharks, blue whales, bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and sea lions.
Do Golden Eagles live in Mexico All Year?
Yes. There are golden eagles that live year-round in Mexico. Others may migrate in from the United States and winter in Mexico. There are even golden eagles that live as far north as Alaska that migrate south to central Mexico to avoid the chilliest of winters. The golden eagles that are from the Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska travel some of the greatest distances over their lifetime. Seeing these majestic birds overhead is truly an amazing sight, no matter where they are from. If you see one in person you will understand why the Mexican people have so much admiration for their national bird.
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- Birdfact, Available here: https://birdfact.com/articles/what-is-the-national-bird-of-mexico
- National Endowment for the Humanities, Available here: https://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plans/aztecs-find-home-eagle-has-landed
- All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Crested_Caracara/overview
- Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/magazine/september-october-2010/river-raptors
- All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Golden_Eagle/maps-range
- National Park Service, Available here: https://www.nps.gov